Silence in the Face of Evil

Words Worth Thinking About


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, is often remembered for his profound words during a time of profound evil.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This quote is often attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who spoke out against the Nazi regime in the early 1940’s.

Despite its popular attribution to Bonhoeffer, my research through Bing and ChatGPT reveals no concrete evidence that he ever spoke or wrote these exact words.

“The sentiment expressed in the quote is consistent with Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and actions. He was actively involved in the Confessing Church, a movement that resisted the Nazi regime, and he was connected to a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.”
— ChatGPT

Bonhoeffer was banned from preaching, teaching, or publishing in Germany. He began working with the underground church as he saw the mainline churches in Germany walk away from the Gospel and embrace the world of the Fuhrer.

He arrived in America in June 1939 at the invitation of Union Theological Seminary. However, he regretted his decision, and despite the pleadings of friends to remain in America, Bonhoeffer decided to return to Germany.

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America this time. I must live through this difficult period in our national history along with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people ... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that a future Christian civilization may survive, or else willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization and any true Christianity. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from a place of security.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, for his membership in a group that wanted to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

Less than one month after Bonhoeffer’s execution, Germany formally surrendered to the Allied forces.